The Metropolitan Opera sings deeply passionate Wagner in this 1991 production on a spare but darkly atmospheric stage. James Levine conducts the opera orchestra at a well-measured pace, intoning the haunting overtures and ominous leitmotifs that signal the entrance or presence of an overarching deity or a star-crossed human. The four-hour production -- part two of Der Ring des Nibelungen, Wagner's grandiose four-part epic -- tells its tale of gods and men through a distinguished cast of award-winning Wagner interpreters: Tenor Gary Lakes (Siegmund), soprano Jessye Norman (Sieglinde), soprano Hildegard Behrens (Brünnhilde), bass-baritone James Morris (Wotan), bass Kurt Moll (Hunding), and Christa Ludwig (Fricka). All perform in strong voice, easily ranging into the emotional depths of forbidden love and divine wrath, although Ludwig -- 63 in 1991 -- struggles to energize her aging vocal cords. The acting is another matter. Except for the animated Behrens and her eight Valkyrie sisters, the performers stand rock rigid most of the time, becoming singing statues. In addition, Lakes and Norman -- though vocally impressive -- miscarry as brother-and-sister lovers; there is no chemistry. Morris and Behrens, on the other hand, perform with extraordinary rapport in the final act when Wotan reluctantly banishes his disobedient daughter but embraces her lovingly as he says goodbye. Die Walkure offers three distinct technical advantages for home viewers: high-quality sound, a full-screen picture, and easy-to-read subtitles in British English, French, Chinese, and German. The opera is available on DVD and VHS from Deutsche Grammophon.
by Mike Cummings review